Mr. KERRY. Mr. President, I come to the floor today to introduce the Women's Business Centers Sustainability Act of 1999, and I do so on behalf of myself and Senators Bond, Harkin, Bingaman, Levin, Enzi, Domenici, Abraham, Sarbanes, Akaka, Kennedy, Edwards, Feinstein, Landrieu, Boxer, Cleland, Kohl, Wellstone, Burns, and Leahy.

As the title suggests, this bill addresses the funding constraints that are making it increasingly difficult for our women's business centers to sustain the level of services that they currently provide and, in some instances, to literally keep the doors open.

Some colleagues may ask the question, What is the Women's Business Center Program? The Small Business Administration started the Women's Business Center Program which provides 5-year grants matched by non-Federal dollars to private sector organizations so that they can establish business training centers for women. Depending on the needs of the community being served, the centers teach women the basic principles of finance, management, and marketing, as well as specialized topics such as how to get a government contract or how to start a home-based business.

These business centers are located in rural, urban, and suburban areas, and they direct much of their training and counseling assistance towards socially and economically disadvantaged women.

I might add, Mr. President, of all the changes in the social structure of the United States or in the marketplace in the last years, none has been more profound than the significant numbers of women entering the marketplace. As more and more women enter the marketplace and they assume roles as principal breadwinners or sole breadwinners within some families, it is more and more important that they have the capacity to participate fully in the economy and not be relegated simply to entry-level jobs.

Congress started this program in 1988 in response to hearings that revealed the Federal Government was not meeting the needs of women entrepreneurs and that there were very little other mechanisms for entry-level women entrepreneurs. Women faced particular discrimination in access to credit and capital, and they were shut out of many government contracts and had very little access to the kind of business assistance that they needed to compete in the marketplace. We have really come a long way since that first beginning. There are now 59 centers in 36 States, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico.

In addition to increasing self-sufficiency among women, the women's business centers have strengthened women business ownership overall and encouraged local job creation.

The numbers really tell a remarkable story, Mr. President. In 1998, women-owned businesses made up more than one-third of the 23 million small businesses in the United States. They have accounted for some $3 trillion in annual revenues to the economy, and they employed one out of every four workers in the United States.

Still, according to the data from the 1998 Women's Economic Summit, women-owned businesses account for only 18 percent of all small business gross receipts, and they are dramatically underrepresented in the Nation's two most lucrative markets--corporate buying and government contracting.

This really underscores significantly the problem that I talked about a moment ago of entry-level jobs and of the nature of the small , entrepreneurial, home-grown, cottage-industry-type businesses that women begin with, which often could be grown significantly into larger businesses but for the lack of credit, the lack of available marketing skills, and the lack of management skills. Clearly, the need for women's business centers continues, and this is no time for us to diminish or to dismantle the infrastructure that the federal government has invested in for the past decade.

Addressing the special needs of women-owned businesses serves not just the entrepreneurs, but it serves the overall strength of communities, as well as the economy of the whole of our country. Women's business centers help increase the growth, not just of women's businesses, but also of the large network of support businesses that are linked and affiliated with them, as well as, obviously, the general economy and the local community associated with those businesses.

There are many extraordinarily run centers around the country. Let me highlight two of them--one in New Mexico and one in Massachusetts. I know my colleagues, Senators Bingaman and Domenici, are particularly proud of the one in their home State. I am very proud of one in Massachusetts which has been a model women's business center. It is the Center of Women & Enterprise in Boston. Since 1995, that center has served more than 2,000 women from more than 100 cities and towns in eastern Massachusetts. Of the women it serves every year, 60 percent are low-income, 70 percent are single, and 32 percent are women of color.

Andrea Silbert is the tireless executive director of that center. She has effectively raised money, forged partnerships, and designed thorough training and mentoring programs to help women entrepreneurs.

When the Boston women's business center trains an entrepreneur, that entrepreneur then knows how to approach a lender for a loan, knows how to manage her business, and understands the ins and outs and hows and whys of marketing.

But notwithstanding the success of these several women's business centers, the fact is that a number of them around the country are facing increased difficulty in raising the required matching funds.

There are some people who think the centers should charge higher fees. And they might think so, until you examine the makeup of the people who are being reached by the centers. We were privileged to have a person by the name of Agnes Noonan, who has spent the last 8 years as the executive director of WESST Corporation, the women's business center in Albuquerque, NM, testify before us in the Small Business Committee. As she testified in March, during her first couple of years running the center, her view was that there was a very simple way to deal with the problem of raising money, and that was to do a better job of marketing the center's services to women who could afford to pay higher fees. That would increase the center's income, and it would reduce its reliance on public dollars.

But the problem is that the minute you do that, you start redirecting the energy and focus of the center away from the people who most benefit from it. And that is precisely what she told us as a practitioner. She said:

Though [such a] strategy may have made economic sense, it conflicted directly with our mission of serving low-income women. ..... If we were to target our services to women who could afford to pay market consulting and training rates, then we would clearly not be addressing the needs of low-income women in New Mexico.

She also gave us important information about the realities of fundraising:

Nationally, only six percent of foundation money is earmarked for women, and only a tiny portion of that goes to women's economic development.

So as she said to us, the executive directors of women's business centers are very experienced fundraisers. Lori Smith of the WBC in Oklahoma City said before the House Small Business Committee that she thought she could sell sand in the desert. She viewed herself as good a fundraiser and as good a salesperson as there is, but she also said that competition for foundation- and private-sector dollars has become so intense and those dollars so much scarcer with each year that Government funding has diminished. And they do not have anywhere to turn.

In addition to that, bank mergers are occurring, as we know, at an increased rate around the country. And those mergers are further exacerbating the situation because the banks have been a primary source of funds for many of these centers.

Take the example of the recently announced bank merger in Boston of Fleet Bank and BankBoston. Those banks separately have been very generous to the women's business center in Boston. Their combined contribution came to $150,000. But we have serious concerns that their full support continue, and not reduce as we have seen in other States, where the merged institutions rarely give the same amount of money as the two or three, or whatever number, that the prior institutions contributed. So we have seen a drying up of some of the funding sources, I might add, not just for the women's business centers but for a host of charitable institutions that rely on those contributions.

So for many of the centers, they now have the added specter of losing their annual base of money. We need to guarantee that we do not add to that ominous cloud by having the base that came from the SBA also disappear at the same time when they come to the end of the original 5-year grant cycle. That money is their basic bread and butter, it is their ability to stay alive, as well as the indispensable ingredient of leveraging for additional fundraising dollars.

I believe, and the colleagues who have joined me in introducing this legislation believe, that it is essential for us to find a fair way to let the women's business centers recompete for their base funding. That is competition; it is not entitlement.

So here is how the legislation we introduce gets us there.

First, it allows the women's business centers which have completed a funding term to compete for another 5 years of Federal funding, which, under current policy, would be up to $150,000 per year. The recompetition standards would be higher than those needed for centers applying for funds for their initial 5-year funding term. This recognizes that more experienced centers ought to be able to perform well from the beginning of their second term funding; they have been through the learning curve. And I believe this additional Federal funding is necessary to counteract the adverse impact of bank and corporate mergers I mentioned previously.

Second, my bill will raise the authorization of appropriations for fiscal year 2000 and fiscal year 2001 for women's business center funding from $11 million to $12 million per year. It will also reserve 40 percent of those appropriations for recompetition grants.

I believe that increasing the authorization to $12 million is entirely consistent with the legislation which our committee passed last year, and it would ensure that there would be adequate funding to preserve effective, established centers and to help fund new centers in States that do not have one.

Mr. President, I thank those colleagues who have joined me in this effort. I hope additional colleagues will join in support of this legislation and we can rapidly pass it. It should not be contentious. We are not talking about vast sums of money, but we are talking about an extraordinary amount of leverage for a very small investment.

I think that in most States in this country my colleagues will agree with me that opening the doors of opportunity to full business ownership and participation, particularly to those who have been disadvantaged for various reasons, is of enormous importance to the longer term economic well-being of our country. And when I say "well-being," I am not just talking about the bottom line in terms of the return on investment to those businesses, I am talking, obviously, about the enormous importance of strengthening families, strengthening communities, and eliminating the vestiges of discrimination that remain against women in terms of their full economic participation in the Nation.

I ask unanimous consent that the full text of the Women's Business Centers Sustainability Act be printed in the Record.